The idea of a concept album must run through the head of countless budding musicians, but it takes a talented songwriter with a penchant for creativity to mold a cohesive body of work into so narrow a structure. Remember writing sonnets in eighth-grade English class? Yeah… it’s not easy. Keeping that in mind, a listen to 3 People should urge you to give credit to Mumpsy, the namesake of the Post Records indie-pop, tale-spinning, foot-tapping, neo-bubble-gum pop five-piece band, for attempting such a project. They managed to pack 3 People with the precise pop-sensibilities of an early-sixties vocal group.
Go pull out your dad or granddad’s vinyl collection and look for The Lettermen or The Kingston Trio. Overdub it with mid-80’s analog synthesizers, simple but catchy drum lines, acoustic and electric guitars, and horns over the mix. Then turn the whole thing on its head by trying to describe an unlikely love-triangle over the course of five songs and you’re getting close to what Mr. Ilgenfritz, as he reportedly demands to be called, and his band have cobbled together.
Although their sound is innocent enough, this EP’s story divulges the unexpected misadventures of a love triangle spanning three Iowa cities. Not your typical pop album’s contents…but then again, Mumpsy is by no means shooting to be typical. The laughable cast of characters on 3 People sound like a maladjusted crew of hayseeds transplanted from the deep woods of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone and dropped into three bustling Iowa cities.
Walter, the character sketched in “The Emperor”, is a priest who avoids that same dubious title of his song. Walter covers up his hankering for ecstasy and speed with a Bible. He’s “acting a part, a Bible close to his heart.” To those of his congregation wondering why their priest is hanging around downtown, Ilgenfritz sings that “it’s not that he’s lost, he’s just O.D.-ed again.” George, the main character of “Iowa City”, is a lonely telephone salesman who “never stayed in one place for more than one day.” He misses his wife, and is so out of luck that, while out peddling phones, he falls in love with the drug-pushing Walter, who he spies resting on a frozen park bench! Suzie, the focus of “64 Colors”, is the hard-nosed, emotionally reticent beauty married to George. Her rekindled love-interest with Walter, whom she had been with long before she knew George, tangles 3 People’s plot into an auditory soap opera minus the cheesy lighting and bad hair. I will leave it up to you to witness the unfolding of their witty, heartwarming story; it’s worth it.
The best thing about listening to Mumpsy’s album is that it reminds me that humor and pop songs make a delicious pair. These simple songs are punctuated by eclectic instrumentation, and the sometimes awkward, ever endearing, voice of Ilgenfritz. They aren’t earth-shattering or ground-breaking in and of themselves, but as a concept album the tunes accomplish Mr. Ilgenfritz’s aim of delivering a humorous love-story in a compact, indie-pop wrapping.
—Timothy C. Avery